Cllr Mike Harrison, a Labour member of Thanet District Council, has used Facebook to attack Cllr Ian Driver, an independent councillor, for being a "shirt lifting gender bender." The police have warned Cllr Harrison that if he makes further such comments he could be arrested.

Cllr Harrison has earlier described a woman who complained about being called "love" by bus drivers as "a frustrated, dried-up, bint."

This is not the only lapse of this kind on the council. Recently Cllr Ken Gregory, was suspended from the Conservative Group and cautioned by police after leaving a message on the phone of Cllr John Worrow, an independent councillor, saying: "With a bit of luck you'll get Aids."

Certainly if a councillor or anyone else is involved in threatening behaviour the police should get involved. But when it is a matter of an insulting remark (even a remark that most people would regard as offensive) the principle of freedom of speech should be maintained. Freedom of speech has to extend beyond the freedom to say what most people want to hear.

Whether a political party should choose to retain a person in their ranks who makes offensive comments is quite another matter. How would a gay resident of Newington Ward feel about asking Cllr Harrison to take up an issue on their behalf? Or a gay resident of Garlinge Ward about raising a matter with Cllr Gregory? A councillor should seek to represent all their residents.

So the response to Cllr Harrison is the wrong way round. The police should not be involved. But the Labour Party should have suspended him.

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